Creating a Better BlackBerry Experience


Over the last 18 months, I have had the unique opportunity to become entrenched in the mobile ecosystem from the viewpoint of business startups, independent developers and as a consumer. I walk around with a BlackBerry Bold and an iPhone and test smartphone apps in all shapes and sizes.

At the BlackBerry Partners Fund, we’ll invest in mobile businesses agnostic to the device that the application is based on; however, we expect that as a business owner you’ve chosen to target the right devices for the right reasons in the right market verticals. With that in mind, I get the opportunity to see the merits of developing applications for one platform versus another in a variety of contexts and business situations. From my experience, I have learned that generally, developers want to reach as many target users (or screens) as possible with the minimum amount of work, cost and time invested – and this makes a ton of sense!

BlackBerry Partners Fund is often perceived as the corporate venture arm of Research In Motion (“RIM”) – but it is not. RIM is an investor in the Fund and it is co-managed by RBC Venture Partners and JLA Ventures. As an employee of RBC, I don’t have access to internal information at RIM and I operate at an arm’s length from the company. However, as a fellow Canadian, I would love nothing more than to see RIM continue its dominance in the global smartphone market.

For RIM to remain one of the leaders in the marketplace, I strongly believe that a few fundamental changes need to happen at the developer level through to the end-user experience.

mobile-value-chain

Figure 1. Mobile application value chain from developer to end-user.

Developer Tools
As I mentioned previously, developers want to find the fastest, cheapest and quickest way (while retaining quality) to develop their applications. Many developers who develop for BlackBerry run into two huge fragmentation issues – the first at the device level and the second at the carrier level. My advice to RIM is to either acquire a company that has figured out how to port between BlackBerry models or develop an in-house multi-device porting tool that can be released as part of the BlackBerry SDK for developers. A tool with these capabilities would be helpful to RIM and to developers; there’s a simple equation: “BlackBerry-wide porting tool = more developers + more applications (net, on more handsets) = more revenues for RIM and developers + happier developers” (Note: No scientific studies exist to prove or disprove this equation). Just to be clear, RIM isn’t the only company with this problem. Device software fragmentation has been a problem for Windows Mobile for years and is now beginning to become an issue for Google Android. Microsoft is now trying to combat this with the Windows Mobile 7 platform by taking a standardized approach with no backward compatibility.

Application Stores
Application stores have become an essential distribution platform for mobile applications since the launch of the Apple App Store and are expected to reach $7 billion in revenue in 2010. One of the core elements to ongoing vitality in the app store ecosystem is the ability to create a seamless customer experience, which includes availability of quality apps and the ability to purchase apps easily and quickly, while on-the-go. RIM has a great start with BlackBerry App World (available via mobile and online), but for RIM to improve upon their current application store, I strongly believe that a number of things need to happen:

(1)    A credit card needs to be added to each user’s profile to allow payment beyond PayPal.

(2)    BlackBerry App World needs to come pre-loaded on all handsets; in situations where carriers keep “walled-gardens”, there should be rev share deals in place to push down App World and split revenues on pre-agreed terms with RIM rather than fragmenting distribution for developers who have a hard enough time distributing across all handset models.

(3)    BlackBerry App World needs to run faster and without as many bugs; it crashes far too often IMHO.

I’d like to further note that easing the end-user’s ability to purchase mobile applications would result in more revenues going back to developers who will in turn create more compelling applications for users (as seen in Figure 1, above). It’s a very nice cycle that would benefit RIM, developers and consumers.

Alternative or Cloud Device Management
I think that Apple maintained such a strong, early and rapid acceleration of mobile application adoption because of their centralized billing platform and iTunes. iTunes was a very smart way of leveraging a desktop application (used frequently) to create a simple management console for the iPhone. I believe that RIM should take on a similar strategy. My recommendation to the company would be to have each BlackBerry user create a profile online, hosted in the “cloud”, and accessible through a variety of interfaces. As a primary interface, I would suggest that RIM creates a plug-in that hooks into Microsoft Outlook (the most commonly used application by business users) that would allow full device management capabilities (updates, application purchase, install, sync, etc…); this would take place of the current BlackBerry Desktop Manager. I would also make alternative means of syncing the ‘Berry available such as a plug-in for Firefox or a completely online, hosted solution. However it is done, the core premise remains: make it simple for the user to update, backup, sync and install new applications. IMHO, the simplest way is to embed or plug-in to an existing application that is already running on the user’s machine for the majority of the day. Just like the proverb “out of sight, out of mind,” I believe the opposite is true here.

Readers, I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you agree with any/all of this post? Did I miss anything fundamentally important to RIM’s success going forward? Would you like your device profile and information stored in the cloud?

Note: These are my personal beliefs and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the BlackBerry Partners Fund.

Gartner: Top 10 Consumer Mobile Apps for 2012


Gartner, one of the leading market research firms, has recently identified the top 10 consumer mobile applications for 2012. The research firm listed mobile apps based on their “impact” on consumers and industry players, considering revenue, loyalty, business model, consumer value and estimated market penetration.

“Consumer mobile applications and services are no longer the prerogative of mobile carriers,” said Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner. “The increasing consumer interest in smartphones, the participation of Internet players in the mobile space, and the emergence of application stores and cross-industry services are reducing the dominance of mobile carriers. Each player will influence how the application is delivered and experienced by consumers, who ultimately vote with their attention and spending power.”

Gartner reports that the top 10 consumer mobile applications in 2012 will include:

No. 1: Money Transfer
This service allows people to send money to others using Short Message Service (SMS). Its lower costs, faster speed and convenience compared with traditional transfer services have strong appeal to users in developing markets, and most services signed up several million users within their first year. However, challenges do exist in both regulatory and operational risks. Because of the fast growth of mobile money transfer, regulators in many markets are piling in to investigate the impact on consumer costs, security, fraud and money laundering. On the operational side, market conditions vary, as do the local resources of service providers, so providers need different market strategies when entering a new territory.

Other than SMS, another technologies such as USSD, NFC, or web applications may also play a role in increased mobile money transfer.

No. 2: Location-Based Services
Location-based services (LBS) form part of context-aware services, a service that Gartner expects will be one of the most disruptive in the next few years. Gartner predicts that the LBS user base will grow globally from 96 million in 2009 to more than 526 million in 2012. LBS is ranked No. 2 in Gartner’s top 10 because of its perceived high user value and its influence on user loyalty. Its high user value is the result of its ability to meet a range of needs, ranging from productivity and goal fulfillment to social networking and entertainment.

Some interesting services that already exist include: Foursquare, buzzd, and about 500+ iPhone applications.

No. 3: Mobile Search
The ultimate purpose of mobile search is to drive sales and marketing opportunities on the mobile phone. To achieve this, the industry first needs to improve the user experience of mobile search so that people will come back again. Mobile search is ranked No. 3 because of its high impact on technology innovation and industry revenue. Consumers will stay loyal to some search services, but instead of sticking to one or two search providers on the Internet, Gartner expects loyalty on the mobile phone to be shared between a few search providers that have unique technologies for mobile search.

No. 4: Mobile Browsing
Mobile browsing is a widely available technology present on more than 60 percent of handsets shipped in 2009, a percentage Gartner expects to rise to approximately 80 percent in 2013. Gartner has ranked mobile browsing No. 4 because of its broad appeal to all businesses. Mobile Web systems have the potential to offer a good return on investment. They involve much lower development costs than native code, reuse many existing skills and tools, and can be agile — both delivered and updated quickly. Therefore, the mobile Web will be a key part of most corporate business-to-consumer (B2C) mobile strategies.

No. 5: Mobile Health Monitoring
Mobile health monitoring is the use of IT and mobile telecommunications to monitor patients remotely, and could help governments, care delivery organizations (CDOs) and healthcare payers reduce costs related to chronic diseases and improve the quality of life of their patients. In developing markets, the mobility aspect is key as mobile network coverage is superior to fixed network in the majority of developing countries. Currently, mobile health monitoring is at an early stage of market maturity and implementation, and project rollouts have so far been limited to pilot projects. In the future, the industry will be able to monetize the service by offering mobile healthcare monitoring products, services and solutions to CDOs.

No. 6: Mobile Payment
Mobile payment usually serves three purposes. First, it is a way of making payment when few alternatives are available. Second, it is an extension of online payment for easy access and convenience. Third, it is an additional factor of authentication for enhanced security. Mobile payment made Gartner’s top 10 list because of the number of parties it affects — including mobile carriers, banks, merchants, device vendors, regulators and consumers — and the rising interest from both developing and developed markets. Because of the many choices of technologies and business models, as well as regulatory requirements and local conditions, mobile payment will be a highly fragmented market. There will not be standard practices of deployment, so parties will need to find a working solution on a case-by-case basis.

No. 7: Near Field Communication Services
Near field communication (NFC) allows contactless data transfer between compatible devices by placing them close to each other, within ten centimeters. The technology can be used, for example, for retail purchases, transportation, personal identification and loyalty cards. NFC is ranked No. 7 in Gartner’s top ten because it can increase user loyalty for all service providers, and it will have a big impact on carriers’ business models. However, its biggest challenge is reaching business agreement between mobile carriers and service providers, such as banks and transportation companies. Gartner expects to see large-scale deployments starting from late 2010, when NFC phones are likely to ship in volume, with Asia leading deployments followed by Europe and North America.

No. 8: Mobile Advertising
Mobile advertising in all regions is continuing to grow through the economic downturn, driven by interest from advertisers in this new opportunity and by the increased use of smartphones and the wireless Internet. Total spending on mobile advertising in 2008 was $530.2 million, which Gartner expects to will grow to $7.5 billion in 2012. Mobile advertising makes the top 10 list because it will be an important way to monetize content on the mobile Internet, offering free applications and services to end users. The mobile channel will be used as part of larger advertising campaigns in various media, including TV, radio, print and outdoors.

No. 9: Mobile Instant Messaging
Price and usability problems have historically held back adoption of mobile instant messaging (IM), while commercial barriers and uncertain business models have precluded widespread carrier deployment and promotion. Mobile IM is on Gartner’s top 10 list because of latent user demand and market conditions that are conducive to its future adoption. It has a particular appeal to users in developing markets that may rely on mobile phones as their only connectivity device. Mobile IM presents an opportunity for mobile advertising and social networking, which have been built into some of the more advanced mobile IM clients.

No. 10: Mobile Music
Mobile music so far has been disappointing — except for ring tones and ring-back tones, which have turned into a multibillion-dollar service. On the other hand, it is unfair to dismiss the value of mobile music, as consumers want music on their phones and to carry it around. We see efforts by various players in coming up with innovative models, such as device or service bundles, to address pricing and usability issues. iTunes makes people pay for music, which shows that a superior user experience does make a difference.

Additional information is available in the Gartner report Dataquest Insight: The Top Ten Consumer Mobile Applications for 2012.